Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Exotic Iceland Land Of Fire And Ice
Iceland is an island nation of extreme natural contrasts. The traditional theme and image of Iceland has been ice and fire. But it is much more than that. Mother nature has painted a magnificent tapestry of colors with geological phenomena not matched elsewhere in the world. Inexorably intertwined with this exotic natural environment are the 280,000 Icelanders who, along with their Nordic and Celtic ancestors, have called this North Atlantic island home for over 1100 years. They live mostly along the coast, over one-have of them within a 20-kilometer radius of the capital city of Reykjavík.
From the capital city to remote farms on the tips of exposed fjords, Iceland is picturesque, with some features of the moon surface. Volcanoes, hot springs and glaciers influence the look and feel of the country. The vistas at every turn are decidedly not boring. The changeable weather conditions also keep you alert for something new and different at each turn. But a constant is the friendly engaging Icelander who more often than not has a mastery of English and a sense of what interests the visitor. The Icelander loves to brag about the country; its natural wonders and the historical treasures and traditions that make the place unique. And along the way you will encounter elves, ghosts and the hidden people if you keep your eyes and ears open.
Iceland is difficult for travelers to appreciate fully and to understand even during a two-week visit. But you can plan to immerse yourself in the nature and culture by understanding the geography of the country and what places might most intrigue you. Whether you have three days or several weeks, you should get a grasp of the regions, natural wonders and cultural spots outside Reykjavík before you plan your trip.
What follows are brief descriptions of the regions of Iceland, its natural and cultural location highlights, plus a separate section on the waterfalls of Iceland.
Regions of Iceland
Greater Reykjavík Area: - The first and most important place for a visitor to experience is Reykjavík, the capital city, with its unique blend of architectural statements from bland apartment blocks to soaring church towers and modern sculpture throughout the city. Reykjavík has everything to offer that its larger sister European capital cities do and in some cases, more. All visitors to Iceland should experience the center of Iceland's cultural, educational and entertainment universes. More and more Icelanders are migrating to this expanding city on the peninsula in Faxaflói Bay. The city of Reykjavík includes residential suburbs of Árbær, Breiðholt and Grafarvogur. Greater Reykjavík includes the towns of Seltjarnarness, Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, Garðabær, Bessastaður and Mosfellsbær.
Reykjanes Peninsula: - This large landmass jutting southwestward from Reykjavík is home of the Keflavík International Airport, most visitors' first encounter with Iceland. Reykjanes is an oversized lava field with lots to intrigue the visitor…hot springs, whale watching, the Blue Lagoon, impressive bird cliffs, active fishing villages and some bizarre lava formations. Keflavík and Grindavík are the largest towns on the Reykjanes peninsula.
Southwestern Iceland: includes areas south of Reykjavík as far east as Myrdalsjökull. This area is the most appealing and easiest area for visitors to get to from Reykjavík for day tours and visits that include gorgeous waterfalls, Iceland's famous geysers, many glaciers, beautiful natural retreats in the interior such as Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugur and peaceful farm country. Some of this country was not so peaceful during Iceland's great Saga Age from 874 to 1200 when local feuds led to death and intrigue. Some of the major towns in this area are Selfoss, Hveragerði, Hella, Hvolsvöllur and Vík I Myrdal.
Southeastern Iceland: is dominated by the great Vatnajökull (jökull is Icelandic for glacier), which covers active volcanoes, subterranean lakes and provides all kinds of exploration possibilities. The villages of Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Höfn form the western and eastern entry points to this rugged coastal area of Iceland. Höfn is one of the few fishing ports on the south coast and is the location of the regional airport. A visit to the Skaftafell National Park and the Jökulsá Lagoon are highlights of the natural wonders in this region. In recent years this area, particularly on Vatnajökull, has seen the highest level of volcanic activity in Iceland. While this is disruptive to regional travel, volcanic eruptions in the area are generally a major and safe tourist attraction.
Eastern Iceland: is a massive area of great natural diversity from board bays, expansive forests, and reindeer herds to sheer mountain ridges forming rugged, jagged fjords. Sheltered harbors are home to fishing villages such as Seðisfjörður, Neskaupstaður, and Eskifjörður. Stretching from Bakkafjörður on the north to Djúpivogur on the south, the eastern part of Iceland is centered at the inland village of Egilsstaðir where flights come into the region from Reykjavík.
Northeastern Iceland: offers some of Iceland's top natural spots and its second largest city at Akureyri in Eyjafjörður. Mývatn, Krafla, Ásbyrggi, and Húsavík are perfect locations for enjoying nature on land and sea. Dettifoss, Europe's largest waterfall, and Goðafoss, arguably Iceland's most beautiful waterfall, are worth visits. This region affords access to Iceland's only location north of the Arctic Circle, Grímsey Island, reached by plane or boat.
Northern Iceland: focuses on two large bodies of water - Húnafloi and Skagafjöður with small towns and many historical sites dotting the coastline. Hólar, Hofsós, Glaumbær, and Víðimýri are among Iceland's most interesting historical locations for getting a glimpse into Iceland's pre-independence centuries. Municipal centers include Blönduós, Sauðurkrókur, Varmahlið, Siglufjöður, Ólafsfjörður and Dalvík, just north of Akureyri.
The West Fjords: are too often missed by visitors due to its distance (real and perceived) from Route 1, the circle road, and from other population centers. The West Fjords are a mass of fjords, mountains and isolated villages on spits of lands surrounded by water and mountains. The scenery is stunning and well worth at least a few days of attention for the adventurous traveler. Ísafjörður is the main town of the West Fjords with the regional airport in town. Other settlements and villages include Bolungarvík, Flateyri, Þingeyri, Hólmavík and Patreksfjörður. The area includes its own glacier, the magnificent, remote Hornstrandir and Europe's westernmost point of land at Látrabjarg.
Western Iceland: includes points north and west of Reykjavík such as Borgarfjörður, the beautiful and mystical Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Dalir region. This region is steeped in Saga literary tradition and offers the traveler a glimpse of Iceland's Viking past as well as peaceful nature settings. Cruises into the great Breiðafjörður north of Snæfellsnes visit areas rich in bird and sea life. Major towns and settlements include Akranes, Borgarnes, Reykholt, Ólafsvík, and Stykkishólmur
Iceland's Top Natural and Cultural Spots outside Reykjavík
Southern, Western and Northwestern Iceland
Blue Lagoon - One of Iceland's top tourist sites, the lagoon is a mineral-rich swimming and bathing area carved out of the lava fields of the Reykjanes peninsula. The water is rich in silica, said to be good for the skin. The water temperature ranges from 30 to 40 degrees Celsius, making a dip before or after a long international flight both very relaxing and refreshing. Location: North of Grindavík on the south coast and 15 minutes from the Keflavík International Airport.
Krísuvík - This is a geothermal area on the Reykjanes peninsula with steam vents, mud pools, and sulphur deposits. Location: South and west of Hafnarfjörður, a suburb of Reykjavík.
Þingvellir National Park - Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvedlir) and the nearby lake Þingvallavatn is a national park and has historical significance to Icelanders as the location of the original Althing (parliament) founded in 930AD. This protected area is the best place to view the great mid-Atlantic ridge as it runs through the middle of this national park forming gorges and ridges of lava. Even if you visit Iceland only for two days, this locale should be a mandatory stop. Location: About 40 minutes west of Reykjavík and usually one of the first stops on the Golden Circle day tours.
Geysir - This is the namesake for all geysers in the world and is a fascinating close-up of mother nature's idiosyncrasies. There are two active geysers and many bubbling hot pools along with hotel, restaurant and museum facilities. The Great Geysir is not a regular performer, though more active since a June 2000 earthquake in the area enlivened its activity. Strokkur is smaller but very active and erupts about every 5 minutes to a height of 100 feet. Location: North and west of Laugurvatn and not far from Gullfoss.
Skálholt - Skálholt, the southern bishopric of Iceland, was for 700 years the cultural and religious center in southern Iceland. The current church, built in 1963, has some beautiful art work and the location has some fascinating history of beheadings and intrigue. Location: Near Laugarvatn and sometimes visited on the Golden Circle.
Laugurvatn - The name means warm lake, this is a central location and a home for a number of schools for the region that operate as hotels in the summer. Laugarvatn is a top summer vacation spot for Icelanders. Located west of Þingvellir.
Hekla - A beautiful and sometimes peaceful mountain, this was one of the most feared locations in Medieval Europe and was considered the entrance to hell. This volcano erupts rather frequently, six times in the 20th century and last in 2000; it is a great place to visit and hike through. Location: West of Hella and southwest of Landmannalaugur.
Þósmörk - One of the top natural preserves in Iceland, this area is ideal for hiking during the summer months. It can be a challenge to get to due to the many rivers that have to be crossed. Beautiful hiking trails and glacier vistas can be enjoyed here. Location: Lies north of Eyjarfjallajökull and is best reach on a tour with a four-wheel drive jeep or bus.
Landmannalaugur - A paradise in the interior full of multi-colored rhyolite rock formations and a warm hot spring river suitable for swimming and relaxing. This is a camper's spot and worth a visit with experienced tour guides. Location: West of Helka and north of Mýrsdaljökull.
Dyrhólaey - This is a magnificent promontory jutting out into the Atlantic at Iceland's southern most mainland tip. The 360 feet summit with its remote lighthouse offer views east and west along the southern coast and a look down through a natural arch big enough for a small plane to fly through and for boats to motor through. This is a bird sanctuary and can be closed to traffic during nesting season in the late spring. Location: Near the village of Vík í Mýrdal.
Vestmannaeyjar - This is a collection of 15 islands off the southwest coast of Iceland and is home to about 5000 inhabitants and many birds and interesting sea life. The settlement of Heimaey is famous for its 1973 volcanic eruption and being the home of Keiko of "Free Willy" fame. These islands are accessible from the main land by plane or ferry and are well worth a visit. Location: Off the south coast of Iceland.
Snorri's Pool at Reykholt - Reykholt was the home of Snorri Sturluson, famous writer and statesman, in the early years of Iceland's Saga Age. This location offers a look into Iceland's early history and provides some intrigue and mystery about this very accomplished man of culture. On-going archaeological digs are finding new and exciting remnants of Snorri's estate at Reykholt. Location: West of Borgarnes and about an hour and a half drive from Reykjavík.
Arnarstapi - This is a beautiful seaside setting on the south coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula not far from the glacier. Full of interesting cliffs and sea stacks abundant in bird life, this is a peaceful location to enjoy birds, seals and the sounds of ocean surf. Location: Due west from Borgarnes and about 2 and a half hours drive from Reykjavík.
Hellnar - A location similar to Arnarstapi, this area is steeped in mysticism and lore of the early settlement of this area of Iceland. Hellnar is directly under the glacier and affords some of the most enjoyable vistas of sea and land to be found in western Iceland. It is also a center for organized tours of the western end of Snæfellsnes pensinsula. Location: 15 minutes west of Arnastapi.
Helgafell - It is said that this small hill outside Stykkishólmur is magical and those who climb it without looking back or talking will have three wishes granted. From the easily reached summit a lovely view can be enjoyed. Located 5 minutes from Stykkishólmur on the north coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Ísafjarðardjúp - This large, indented fjord divides the northwestern fjord region of Iceland in two and represents the focal point of activity and sites in this remote though beautiful and friendly part of Iceland. Boat tours in the summer including visits to the islands of the fjord - Vigur and Æðey- are time well spent for the visitor/explorer.
Location: Western Fjords
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve - Accessed by boat, this uninhabited area of northwest Iceland is a place for hikers and walkers to enjoy unspoiled land with wonderful vistas and wildflowers afoot. The southeastern end is bordered by the ice cap Drangajökull. Though difficult to get to, it is a special place for lovers of the great outdoors, only in summer, though. Location: North of Ísafjörður.
Látrabjarg - This is a fantastic birdcliff area in the northwest and represents Europe's farthest western point. A birdwatcher's paradise, this area can be reached by road during the summer months. Location: Near Patreksfjörður on the southern point of land in the northwestern fjord region.
Northern, Eastern and Southeastern Iceland
Glaumbær - One of the Iceland's best-preserved turf homes, this museum is fully furnished with farmhouse implements and kitchen and pantry materials from the 18th century. Location: Outside Varmahlið just off the main road to Akureyri.
Víðmýri - This very small wooden church with a turf roof built in 1834 is a classic example of the simplicity of Icelandic life in bygone days. Location: Outside Varmahlið just off the main road to Akureyri.
Hólar í Hjaltadal - Skálholt's counter-part in the north, Hólar is the location of the northern bishopric of Iceland and offers a fascinating historical perspective of early Icelandic religious tradition and events in a beautiful, serene setting. Now an agricultural school and horse farm, Hólar is a must visit on the northern route to Akureyri. Location: South of Hofsós and north of Varmahlið.
Hofsós - This small fishing village is now the home of the popular Icelandic Emigration Center. The center traces the migration paths of Icelanders who moved to North America mostly before the turn of the 20th century. For any visitor with Icelandic ancestry, this is a must visit. Location: On Skagafjörður north of Varmahlið.
Grímsey - This is an island cut in half by the Arctic Circle and a popular place for day trippers to fly in for a visit, receive a document notarizing the Arctic Circle visit and then return south. This island outpost is interesting for bird lovers and well worth a day's visit for walkers to enjoy its peaceful setting. Location: Off the north coast of Iceland.
Mývatn - This lake and surrounding park-like setting is one of Iceland's top natural gems, now a national conservation landmark. The area is full of bird life, a variety of natural phenomena and right next door to geothermal and volcanically active areas. Local tours are available and the region is an excellent hiking and fishing spot. Location: About 45 minute's drive east of Akureyri and has a small airstrip for charter flights.
Ásbyrgi - This is a horseshoe-shaped canyon, part of Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, that lures the visitor into its cliff surrounded center green with trees and grasslands. Location: East of Húsavík and north of Dettifoss.
Askja - A recently active volcano, Mt. Askja in the interior is an example of how Mother Nature can dramatically alter the landscape when a massive volcanic eruption wreaks havoc. Craters and lakes abound in this area north of Vatnajökull and are worth a visit with an experienced guide on a scheduled tour. Location: South of Mývatn, west of Egilsstaðir and north of the great Vatnajökull.
Laki - Location of Iceland's most devastating volcanic eruption in recorded history (1783), its craters are still steaming today. There are fabulous views to be had from the summit. Location: North of Kirkjubæjarklaustur in the southeast.
Eldgjá - This is the most extensive explosion fissure in the world. It is a 15-mile long rift and contains one of Iceland's most beautiful waterfalls in its interior. Location: Northeast of Mýrdalsjökull.
Hveravellir - This hot springs oasis lies in the middle of the country on the Kjölur route and offers geysers and hot pools suitable for swimming. This popular location is a stop for scheduled tours and travelers heading north near Langjökull. Location: On the Kjölur Route midway between north and south.
Skaftafell National Park - Right under Vatnajökull (Europe's largest glacier), Skaftefell has been shaped by the glacier, volcanic eruptions under the glacier, resulting floods and water erosion. Some of the loveliest vistas in Iceland are to be experienced here on a clear day. Lowlands, lava beaches, rushing rivers, hillside farms and the massive glacier make this a paradise for hikers, mountain/ice climbers and tourists on scheduled tours. Location: West and south of Höfn, the nearest regional airport.
Jökulsárlon - This is the great glacial lake (full of floating icebergs) that didn't exist before 1900 and could disappear with new seismic or volcanic action. Boat trips on the lake are dream-like with the shapes and beautiful hues of blues visible in the calved glacial ice, a photographer's paradise. Location: West of Höfn on the southeast coast.
The Waterfalls of Iceland
Dettifoss - Touted as Europe's most powerful waterfall, this 145 feet high cataract is in a remote area in the Jökulsárgjufur National Park.
Dynjandi - Located in the northwestern fjords at the head of the northern arm of Arnarfjörður (also known as Fjallfoss), this waterfall fans out as it cascades down 200 feet. It spauns several other waterfalls below it.
Glymur - Iceland's highest waterfall at 650 feet is an hour's walk from the road.
Goðafoss - "The fall of the gods" is an easy-to-reach powerful waterfall on the way to Mývatn. This waterfall is the most photographed waterfall in the north and quite a sight to enjoy.
Gullfoss - Certainly the most visited waterfall in Iceland, it is included in the popular Golden Circle daily tours. It is best to walk up close to the falls to enjoy the full majesty and power of this double waterfall.
Hengifoss - In eastern Iceland, this is Iceland's third highest waterfall at 387 feet. It is reached after a long walk just west of Lagarfljót south of Egilsstaðir.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss - On the Hvitá river in the Reykholt area near Borgarnes, these two closely connect waterfalls are well worth a visit. Hraunfossar is a waterfall flowing out of a lava field and running down a broad stretch of riverbank.
Ófærufoss - In the Eldgjá area of the interior, this waterfall has a fabulous arch that frames its upper reaches. One can walk across the arch in safety. This site is included on guided tours of this area.
Seljalandsfoss - This is a tall, narrow and often wind-blown waterfall that is breathtaking and fun to sit and watch from a picnic table. The visitor can walk behind the falls without getting drenched.
Skógafoss - Near the settlement of Skógar on the south coast, this magnificent waterfall always sports a beautiful rainbow on sunny days and is worth a hike up to its summit. (180 feet)
Svartifoss - Basalt columns suggesting an artistic mood by Mother Nature surround the very popular Svartioss in Skaftafell National Park.
Facts on Iceland
Official Name: The Republic of Iceland (in Icelandic, Lýðveldið Íslands).
The Land/Geology: Iceland is an island of 103,000 km2 or 39,756 square miles (about the size of Ohio), with an average height of 500 m above sea level. Its highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur, rises to 2,119 m/6,500 feet, and glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe, cover over 11 per cent of the country. Iceland has over 10,000 waterfalls and countless hot springs.
Iceland comprises one large island and numerous smaller ones, and is situated near the Arctic Circle. Iceland is sometimes called the "land of ice and fire" for the striking contrasts in its landscapes, where grand glaciers and magnificent fjords coexist with over 200 volcanoes, many of which are still active today. Geologically speaking, Iceland is the youngest country in Europe, formed only 16-20 million years ago by volcanic eruptions on the North Atlantic seabed. The rift can clearly be seen running through Iceland where the American and European continental plates are moving apart, making the country spread by 1-2 cm a year.
Thirty post-glacial volcanoes have erupted in the past two centuries, and natural hot water supplies much of the population with cheap, pollution-free heating. Rivers, too, are harnessed to provide inexpensive hydroelectric power.
The People: Out of a population numbering a little over 280,000, half live in the capital of Reykjavík and its neighboring towns in the southwest. The highland interior is uninhabited (and uninhabitable), and most centers of population are situated on the coast. The population density is 2.7 per square kilometer. Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe (seventh in the world). Most of the people are of Norwegian descent, with about a 20%+ mixture of Celtic blood from those who came from Ireland and the Scottish islands. Foreigner immigration to Iceland has been steadily increasing over the past 10 years.
History: The first permanent settlers came to Iceland in 874 to seek freedom from Norway's oppressive king Harald Fairhair. In 930, the Icelandic settlers founded one of the world's first republican governments, the Althingi. In 1262, Iceland became subject to Norwegian control. In 1830 it came under Danish control, along with Norway. After the granting of a constitution (1874) and with an improving economy, Iceland finally became an independent sovereign state under the Danish king in 1918. The Republic of Iceland was formally declared on June 17, 1944. The country is governed by the Althingi (parliament), whose members are elected every four years. Elections are also held every four years for the presidency; President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was elected in June 1996 to succeed Vigdis Finnbogadottir. The head of state plays no part in day-to-day politics.
Iceland is a member of numerous international organizations including the United Nations and its agencies, the European Economic Area, NATO, the Council of Europe, OECD, WTO and the Nordic Council.
The Language: Icelandic is a Teutonic language of the Nordic group. It is believed to have changed little from the original tongue spoken by the Norse settlers. English is widely spoken and understood.
The Icelandic Alphabet has two letters of its own: Þ/þ (thorn) pronounced like th in "thing" and Ð/ð (eth) pronounced like th in "them". Other Icelandic letters not found in English include vowels: Á/á, É/é, Í/í, Ó/ó, Ú/ú, Ý/ý, Æ/æ, Ö/ö. From the settlement in 874AD Icelandic has undergone changes of pronunciation and, of course, of vocabulary. Icelandic is considered one of the purest languages spoken in Europe with a strict control over the introduction and creation of new words such as in the technology field.
Iceland is alone in upholding a Norse tradition, i.e. the custom of using patronymics rather than surnames; an Icelander's Christian name is followed by his or her father's name and the suffix -son or dóttir, e.g. Guðrún Pétursdóttir (Gudrun, daughter of Petur). Members of a family can therefore have many different "surnames," which sometimes causes confusion to foreigners.
Religion: Complete religious freedom is safeguarded in the constitution of Iceland. Christianity was adopted in Iceland - one of the few countries where this took place peacefully - in the year 1000 at Þingvellir, the ancient parliament site. A special Iceland 2000 - Millennium of Christianity program was held in 2000 to celebrate the anniversary.
The National Church of Iceland, to which 88% per cent of the population belongs, is Evangelical Lutheran. In addition to the many Lutheran churches in Reykjavik there is a Roman Catholic Cathedral, with regular Sunday Mass. There are many Lutheran churches found throughout the Icelandic countryside and services are usually held every Sunday at 11:00 or 2:00. There is no rule regarding separation between state and church. The Icelandic government provides financial support to the churches including covering pay and benefits for clergy.
Education: Education is mandatory from 6 to 15 years of age. There are 50 schools and colleges at secondary level, where one out of every three Icelanders in the age group of 16-19 is studying. University-level education is offered at five establishments in Iceland and one in every five Icelanders aged 20-24 is studying at university or a comparable institution, in Iceland or abroad. English is a mandatory subject in school. Literacy is 99.9%, the highest in the world.
The Economy: The Icelandic economy is heavily dependent upon fishing. Despite efforts to diversify, particularly into the travel industry, seafood exports continue to account for nearly three quarters of merchandise exports and approximately half of all foreign exchange earnings. Yet less than 10 per cent of the workforce is involved in fishing and fish processing. The travel industry makes up the second-largest export industry in Iceland. The standard of living is high, with income per capita among the best in the world. The financial sector has been liberalized in recent years. The economy is service-oriented: two thirds of the working population are employed in the service sector, both public and private. Iceland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA).
The main imports to Iceland are ships, motor vehicles, fuel, metal ores, household appliances and various foods. The main exports are marine products, aluminum and ferrosilicon.
Health: Life expectancy, at 81.3 years for women and 76.4 for men, in one of the highest in the world, and a comprehensive state health-care system aims to keep it that way.
Time: In spite of its mid-Atlantic location, Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time all year.
Weather/Climate/Sunlight: Because of the influence of the Gulf Stream, Iceland enjoys a cool temperate ocean climate: cool in summer and fairly mild in winter. However the weather is very changeable and travelers should be prepared for the unexpected.
Average temperatures in Reykjavík:
Sunrise/sunset in Reykjavík
January 1 11:19 am - 3:45 pm
February 1 9:55 am - 5:30 pm
March 1 8:35 am - 6:47 pm
April 1 6:45 am - 8:20 pm
May 1 4:42 am - 10:09 pm
June 1 3:17 am - 11:36 pm
July 1 3:05 am - 11:57 pm
August 1 4:47 am - 10:18 pm
September 1 6:10 am - 8:44 pm
October 1 7:54 am - 6:36 pm
November 1 9:20 am - 5:01 pm
December 1 10:45 am - 3:48 pm
Air Transportation: Daily flights, most of them operated by Icelandair, link Iceland with more than 20 gateways in Europe and North America. Flight time is 2-4 hours to Western Europe and 4.5-6 hours to North America. Domestic scheduled and charter services operate to several main regional communities, with a flight time of less than one hour.
Clothing: When traveling in Iceland you should bring along light-weight woolens, a sweater or cardigan, a rainproof (weather-proof) coat and sturdy walking shoes. Also bring your swim suit. Travelers who are camping or heading into the interior will need warm underwear and socks, rubber boots and a warm sleeping bag.
The Currency: The unit of currency in Iceland is the Króna, plural Krónur, abbreviated locally as kr and internationally as IKR Coins come in 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 denominations. Notes come in 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 denominations. The exchange rate changes daily and can be found on the Internet at Yahoo or other service providers with financial pages. The US dollar has been equal to about 85 Icelandic Krónur over the past 12 months.
Cash and Exchanging Funds: Banks and some post offices will advance cash against main debit and credit cards. Cash and travelers checks can be exchanged at banks and most hotels. Some shops in Reykjavík and at Keflavík International Airport accept US dollars and other major European currency. ATM's are found throughout Iceland.
Shopping and business hours: There are a large number of excellent shops inReykjavík and elsewhere in Iceland, where one can purchase not only the usual souvenirs but also gifts for your own home or completely different items for your wardrobe. The famous Icelandic knit sweaters, scarves, dresses and hats are distinctive in design and quality. The ceramics are beautiful; many are made out of, or incorporate, real lava. Unusual ornaments in silver and gold, gloves, slippers, wall hangings, tablecloths and woodcarving add to the list. There is also a wide choice of skin and articles manufactured from them or from fur.
Shops are open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2/4 pm. Many shops are closed on Saturdays during summer months. Many supermarkets are open 10 am to 10/11 pm seven days a week. Kiosks are usually open until 11:30 pm. State-owned alcohol stores are found in most of the larger towns and throughout the greater Reykjavík area. Banks are open for business weekdays 9.15 a.m. to 4 p.m. Offices are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays but most offices are closed on Saturdays. Shops in the Kringlan Shopping Mall are open Mon.-Thurs. 10:00-18:30, Fridays 10:00-19:00, Saturdays 10:00-18:00 and Sundays 13:00-17:30 in the summer. The new Smáralind shopping mall in Kópavogur, a suburb of Reykjavík, is open from 11:00 to 20:00 Monday through Friday, 10:00 to 18:00 on Saturday and 12:00 noon to 18:00 on Sunday. Post offices are open from 9 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday.
Tax-Free Shopping: Visitors can reclaim value-added tax (VAT) on purchases exceeding Icelandic Krónur 4,000. Look for the "Tax-Free Shopping" logo on storefronts and ask the shop for a refund form. You will be given a refund form or coupon, which can be cashed in at the airport on leaving the country. The refund amounts to approximately 15% of the purchase price.
Credit Cards: VISA and Master Card are accepted widely and have member banks in Iceland. American Express is less widely accepted, especially outside Reykjavík.
Dining: Restaurants in Iceland offer a wide variety of dishes, ranging from Icelandic seafood and mountain lamb to Indian or Japanese cuisine. There are also places that offer pizza, hamburgers and other less expensive dishes. The average cost of Icelandic meals (without wine or liquor) is as follows: Breakfast USD 10-15, lunch USD 15-20, dinner USD 25-45.
Tipping: Service and VAT (24.5%) are invariably included in prices in Iceland.
Passport: A valid passport for US citizens is required for entry into Iceland. Visas are not required for visits to Iceland of less than three months.
Duty-Free Allowance: Incoming passengers may bring 1 litre of spirits (up to 47% alcohol content); 1 litre of wine (up to 21% alcohol) or 6 litres of beer, and 200 cigarettes or 250 g of other tobacco products.
Communications: Phone numbers in Iceland are seven digits. The international code for Iceland is 354. Dialing from the US, dial 011 354 and the local seven digit number. Dialing from Iceland to the US is easy. All major US long distance carriers have local access numbers in Iceland that enable you to phone and use a phone credit card or a regular bank credit card. Generally, US mobile/cell phones do not function in Iceland. Iceland mobile phones operate on GSM and NMT and can be leased for a reasonable amount at one of three local wireless companies. AOL has a local access number for users and other US-based ISP's can be accessed from Iceland, usually for additional charges.
Health Coverage: Citizens from countries outside Scandinavia and the UK are not covered under the national insurance program and are advised to purchase coverage or make sure exiting coverage is valid for visits to Iceland.
Electrical Current and use of electrical appliances: The electrical current in Iceland is 220 volts, 50 HZ AC. The prongs on electrical equipment you bring with you may be different from Iceland standards. In some cases adapters and portable converters are required.
Airport Arrival: Entry into Iceland at Keflavík International Airport and Leifur Eiríksson Terminal is easy. Travelers first pass through Passport Control (usually no lines), then proceed downstairs to the luggage area. A stop at the duty-free store is a good idea while you wait for your luggage. Then you pass through entry control customs and enter the main lobby of arrivals where you will find all the major car rental companies, a bank for currency exchange, an information booth and the FLYBUS check-in counter. If you are not renting a car, you can bus or taxi into Reykjavík, about a 40 minute journey. The FLYBUS cost about $10 per person and delivers travelers to most of the main hotels in Reykjavík and to the city check-in terminal location at Hótel Loftleiðir, where a local taxi can be hailed. Taking a taxi from the airport direct to your destination in Reykjavík can cost about $80.00.
0°C = 32°F
1 foot=30 centimeters
1 meter=1.094 yards
1 yard=0.914 meters
1 kilometer=0.6214 mile
1 mile=1.609 kilometers
1 liter=1.76 pints
1 pint=0.568 liters
1 liter=0.22 gallons
10 liters=2.2 gallons
1 gallon=4.546 liters
100 grams=3.5 ounces
1 kilogram=2.205 pounds
1 pound=0.454 kilograms
1 ton=1016.04 kilograms